What do the songs Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People and Mmmbop by Hanson have in common? That they sound pretty cheerful, even though they actually discuss very painful, heavy, or difficult topics.
After two very popular editions of this list, it’s time for ‘These songs aren’t as happy as they sound – Volume 3’. You’ll be as surprised as ever…
5. Vamos A La Playa – Righeira
It was THE summer hit of 1983; Vamos A La Playa by Italian disco duo, Righeira. It topped charts all over Europe, and even 35 years after its release, you still hear people singing along to the unbelievably catchy ‘Vamos a la playa, oh oh oh oh’.
Knowing that ‘Vamos a la playa’ literally translates to ‘Let’s go to the beach,’ combined with the tropical sound of this song, you may think that this is a happy tune about carefree times. But nothing could be more untrue! This golden oldie may include sun, sea, and beach, but it’s nowhere near as sunny as it sounds. In fact, it’s about a very serious subject, a nuclear bomb!
Let’s go to the beach
The bomb exploded
The radiation toasts
And blends with the blue
Let’s go to the beach
Everybody with a hat
The radioactive wind
Messes up the hair
Let’s go to the beach
Finally the water is clean
No more stinking fish
but fluorescent water
Vamos A La Playa – Righeira
I can’t find any info online as to why the duo chose to write a song about such an unexpected subject. Looking back at The Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war, especially at the beginning of the 80’s, it’s likely that this song is a critical response to the status quo of the time. Did you realise that this summer hit is actually a protest song?
If you watch the following music video, you can see that the guys haven’t exaggerated the fluorescent power of radioactive rays…
4. Stare Into The Sun – Graffiti6
Another summer song that isn’t all sunshine! If I listen to Stare Into The Sun by Graffiti6, I always think back to myself dancing at Lowlands Festival in 2011, enjoying every moment of it.
Even the creative brains at EA Games loved it, adding it to the soundtrack of FIFA12.
But guess what? This song’s lyrics aren’t about absorbing solar energy or celebrating life. In fact, it seems the sun doesn’t shine at all for the boys of Graffiti6. They’re actually recovering from heartbreak.
There ain’t a cloud in the sky or nothing
I see the birds they fly on something
This is the summer, it’s the summer for the colour, baby
The sun is shining down for lovers
But not for me it shines for other
You gave me love baby, gave me love baby, now it’s over
Do you also get extra sad when the weather is great, but it really doesn’t match your mood?
I’m feeling blue
‘Cause love is gone
Guess I lose
But life goes on
Got a few tears to dry
Before these blue shade days are gone
And I can stare into the sun
Stare into the sun, stare into the sun
I’m gonna stare into the sun, stare into the sun sun sun
Stare Into The Sun – Graffiti6
Luckily the following is also true about this heartbreak: after rain comes sunshine!
3. La Camisa Negra – Juanes
If you listen to the cheerful sounds of La Camisa Negra by Colombian singer Juanes, you might think that he is celebrating love. But no, the poor bastard has a broken heart and that really doesn’t sit well with him (neither does his black shirt).
I have the black shirt
Today my love is mourning
Today I’ve a soul in pain
And the fault is in your spell
Today I know that you don’t love me anymore
And that’s what hurts me most
That I have the black shirt
And it’s a shame that it hurts
‘Having the black shirt’ is a reference to the tradition of wearing black clothes when in mourning. Juanes is living with his heart on his sleeve.
Unfortunately I ended up alone
And it was purely and totally your lie
What a bad luck do I have
That I met you that day
By drinking from the bad poison of your love
I remain dying and full of pain
La Camisa Negra – Juanes
Ouch, that sounds pretty dramatic! Juanes scored a global hit with La Camisa Negra though, so hopefully that softened the blow a bit..
2. Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men
The catchy tune Little Talks by Icelandic folk-pop band Of Monsters and Men sounds like an ode to life. Don’t you just feel joyful when you hear it? But it seems that this joy is a bit misplaced…
In an interview with Interview Magazine, singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir had this to say about the song’s meaning:
“It’s about a couple and the husband passed away and it’s from the conversation between the two of them. We don’t know if she’s going crazy or if someone’s actually there.”
You can follow their conversation in the lyrics:
[Woman:] I don’t like walking around this old and empty house
[Man:] So hold my hand, I’ll walk with you my dear
[Woman:] The stairs creak as I sleep
It’s keeping me awake
[Man:] It’s the house telling you to close your eyes
[Woman:] Some days I can’t even trust myself
[Man:] It’s killing me to see you this way
[Together:] Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore
In fact, she isn’t that happy with his presence- whether it’s only in her head or not:
[Woman:] There’s an old voice in my head
That’s holding me back
[Man:] Well tell her that I miss our little talks
At the end they sing:
[Together:] You’re gone, gone, gone away
I watched you disappear
All that’s left is a ghost of you
Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart
There’s nothing we can do
Just let me go, we’ll meet again soon
Now wait, wait, wait for me, please hang around
I’ll see you when I fall asleep
Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men
They these lines together, but what I take from them is that the woman is pleading with the husband’s spirit to leave her alone. If she dies, they’ll meet again. However, the final two lines seem to contradict that.
The conclusion: either they don’t know exactly what they want, or they don’t agree with each other. What do you think?
1. Born In The U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
This might be the most famous song that has been misinterpreted for decades: Born In The U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen. Whilst many think that it’s a chauvinistic power anthem about America, The Boss intended it to be something entirely different. He meant it as a protest song.
In the book Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream, a quote by Springsteen is used which discusses the topic of his world famous hit:
[The song is about] a working-class man [in the midst of a] spiritual crisis. It’s like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his family.
The main character in the story gets pushed to the edge:
Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just coverin’ up
Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
In the aforementioned quote, Springsteen doesn’t mention the Vietnam War or America’s treatment of its war veterans, but later in this song it becomes very apparent what The Boss is singing about:
Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
But when the veteran in question comes back home, there’s no work for him in the refinery and he isn’t supported by Veterans Affairs, the government agency who are supposed to help veterans:
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “Son, don’t you understand”
Back then there was an overwhelming awareness of the astronomically high rate of unemployment amongst Vietnam veterans. Just like the rates of divorce, arrests, and suicides. I haven’t managed to find an official source that confirms these rates; there are even websites that claim that the opposite is true. Regardless, this social awareness motivated Springsteen to write these critical lyrics. In the last verse, he describes how hopeless life was for many veterans:
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go
Born In The U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
Strangely enough, Ronald Reagan referenced this song during his 1984 presidential campaign. Oblivious to its critical tone, Reagan assumed that the song was a message of hope: that this song could support Americans who were chasing the American dream. Springsteen reacted in an interview by stating that Reagan clearly hadn’t listened to the album… A pretty bold move considering that Reagan was the president incumbent at the time.
That confirms that it’s always a good idea to listen to the lyrics! Just more proof that the boss is always right… 😉
Are you not a big fan of cheesy Christmas songs? Check out this Playlist with alternative Christmas songs – I find them hilarious!
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– Vamos A La Playa is written by Carmelo la Bionda & Stefano Righi © unknown, 1983.
– Stare Into The Sun is written by James Needle / Nina Woodford / Tommy D © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 2010.
– La Camisa Negra is written by Juan Esteban Aristizabal © Peermusic Publishing, 2004.
– Little Talks is written by Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir / Ragnar Thorhallsson © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 2011.
– Born In The U.S.A. is written by Bruce Springsteen © BMG Rights Management, 1984.